In what ways did indigenous Christians shape Lebanon’s history? What did you find most interesting about these communities?
I did not know that Zahle, the capital of Beqaa, is the largest Christian-majority city in the Near East. I always assumed Beqaa was overwhelmingly Muslim and didn’t realize that that region contained a significant Christian population as well.
Getting back to the question, the present-day country of Lebanon would not exist without the significant cluster of Christians centered around Mount Lebanon. The Maronite church’s unique relationship with France (dating back to the Crusades) gave them leverage during the French Mandate to successfully splinter off a Christian-majority state off of Greater Syria. This is a stark contrast to the Alawites, Turks and Druze, whose autonomous regions were merged with the larger regions of Damascus and Aleppo to form present-day Syria.
Church historians have played a pivotal role in developing a sense of nationalism fusing Lebanon’s Arabic identity with its Phoenician, Mardite and Maronite past. Mouannes Hojairi writes quite critically about this historiography in “Writing the History of Mount Lebanon: Church Historians and Maronite Identity.” Personally, I fell his work veers into anti-Christian sentiments, but he is spot-on on highlighting the key role the church played in forming, nurturing and preserving Lebanese nationalism in one of the key ethno-religious groups in the country.
Daniel, I was surprised to learn that Lebanon had such a rich Christian history. I’ll admit to almost complete ignorance about the different Christian groups in the Near East, but the course was very informative. Lebanon’s Christian history is a topic I plan to learn more about. Your point about the Maronites and the French was spot on. The close relationship that the two parties enjoyed was interesting to learn. The relationship definitely was an advantage when creating Lebanon and also created a Western-like environment helping to establish the modern hospital and university- the same university Charles Malik worked in.
Daniel thank you for articulating your thoughts so well. I too was very surprised when learned that Zahle had the largest christian-majority city in the Near East; Very fascinating !
I agree with your statement that said Christians are largely responsible for the continued existence of Lebanon as an independent country without it being merged into the rest of of syria like so many other autonomous zones were during that period.
Thank you for your thoughtful response.
Hi Daniel! I really like that you went in-depth with your summary. For me, it was interesting to learn about Lebanon’s history. I think, being in the U.S. we do not take as much interest to learn about other countries. Even our education system does not do a great job at teaching these things but the course was helpful in that. I also have a friend who is Muslim. She is from Lebanon, and she shares some of her experiences being there. It is a place I would love to visit.
Hi, Daniel, thank you for sharing! I liked how you highlighted the history of Maronite Christians going back to the Crusader era, and the unique relationship that they built with the French. It is truly impactful to hear about the role that the Church has played in the history of Lebanon and the formation of its national identity. It is my hope that the Church will continue to play an invaluable role in pursing peace for the future of Lebanon.
I learned many interesting things from this course. I did not know about the strong history of Lebanon and their Christian faith. I actually did not know much about Christian history at all. My historical knowledge has been structured from reading the Bible. So, when I do not understand something, I would search up the historical context of it. I learned that is was Christians who led the Arab Renaissance. I learned that Dr. Habib Malik combined denominational strands of Christianity in Lebanon, with an inclusive spirit. Additionally, Lebanon experienced times of peaceful coexistence among different faiths and denominations under the Christian rule which allowed freedom of religion. In history, there is always so much evidence of wars and people going against others. Although Lebanon had a checkered past, where they experienced good and bad times, it was relieving to hear some good parts of history. This is relevant because people may think of ways that they can be agents of change for issues that they see in the world today.
Hi, Medgine, and thank you for sharing! There is truly a unique and rich history of Christian involvement and leadership in Lebanon that has formed a key part of the history of that country. I agree with you that even if things are not currently in a good place, it can still be refreshing and nice to hear about past periods of success that can provide a reliable source of optimism and hope that things could once again be prosperous and successful.
Hey Medgine, thanks for sharing. I also was unfamiliar with the history of Lebanon and their Christian faith – why I elected to take this course as one of my electives! I, like you, found it very interesting to learn from Dr. Habib Malik – someone related to such an influential person in the Lebanese sociopolitical realm. The periods of peaceful coexistence among different faiths was a surprise to me as well because it goes against my preconceived perceptions of the geographical area.
Hey Medgine thank you for sharing your response. I thought it was quite fascinating to also see that it was Christians that led the Arab-renaissance and helped shape the very much talked about Lebanese culture from back in the 90’s. It was also fascinating to see like you mentioned how various religions and faiths experienced peaceful times under christian rule and how there also existed an environment of tolerance during those specific periods of time.
I agree there is so much good that happened and could still happen in Lebanon. As it used to be called where the bridge between the East and the West. I think for me I was surprised how long Lebanon prospered compared to how fast it declined into poverty. Throughout the course I was much like you finding it interesting about Lebanon and its Christian faith. As you said it was the Christians who led the Arab Renaissance contributing to the world at large poetry, literature, and other discoveries.
I believe that indigenous Christians shaped Lebanon’s history by being one of the few people groups in the region who believed in and advocated for their freedom. The Maronites in particular were committed to maintaining their freedom and independence for as long as they possibly could, while many other Christians, such as Greek Orthodox or Armenians, integrated within Islamic societies. This commitment to freedom was refreshing and fascinating to learn about because they were unafraid to challenge the current state of the culture in Lebanon and the Near East whenever it threatened the freedom of Christians in the area. This spirit of firm resistance to tyranny and oppression is key in understanding these Christian communities as well as looking abroad at ways to challenge the growing power and threat of nations like Iran. The same spirit of freedom can apply not only to Christians, but for Jews and Muslims as well who want to live and worship in peace across the Near East. My hope and prayer is that this example of Maronite Christians will help serve as a guide towards practical and lasting peace in the region.
Hey Benjamin, I appreciate your response and especially resonated with your first point about the importance of advocating for freedom. The Maronites fight for independence and willingness to sacrifice to continue the have the right to practice their religion had to have informed attitudes in the region beyond the Maronite population. You touch on this saying Jews and Muslims can draw from this spirit to live and worship in peace across the Near East and I agree with you – I think this is a fantastic “case study” that many people in the area or studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could benefit from informing themselves on.
I was interested to learn just how directly involved the Christian communities were in founding of Lebanon. The Maronite community and leaders had a strong influence over the very establishment over the state of Lebanon with their relationship to France. Under Christian rule, different faith communities from Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims experienced freedom of religion because of the inherent principles of their faith. Christians were also influential in the “Arab Renaissance” in the 19th century under Christian leadership. And during the ascendency for Christians between the period of 1930-1975, when Christians prospered, so did all other groups (other than the Shiites).
Ilona, I found this interesting too. The Maronites are a very interesting group and I had little prior knowledge before the course. The relationship with France was a great way for them to grow their educational prospects with the creation of the university in Beirut. The freedom to practice one’s chosen religion in the Near East seems like such a foreign concept in the West, but shows the character of Modern Lebanon at their founding. You are right that it is interesting that other groups prospered when the Christians prospered.
I was surprising to hear there was such a strong Christian presence in Lebanon – even today after the war and current events (emigration) it was surprising to learn Zahle and Lebanon have such large populations of Christians. I believe that the indigenous Christians shaped Lebanon’s history with their attitude. Their strong willpower to survive and thrive in a heterogeneous environment is commendable and I believe goes a long way to inform the larger attitudes of Lebanese people in general. They may be facing trails and adversity right now but the structure, systems, and opportunities set up by early indigenous Christians paved the path for later settlers (i.e. Universities, Western healthcare, etc.) to take hold and persevere. If it wasn’t for their fight for freedom of religion other faith communities would likely not have been able to survive either and contribute – the effect extrapolating. It was interesting to me to learn how there was relative peace and then how quickly the situation turned sour once the Christians fears from the Cairo Agreement materialized. It was odd to hear about the golden days of the 1960’s to then hear about a 15 year war that has all but continued today.
It is quite fascinating to note that Lebanon as is today would even exist with the christian populations that have been spread out over Mount Lebanon. The unique relationship that Lebanon shares with France has largely been fostered by the Maronite Church dating back to the crusades and gave them a sense of independence during the French mandate to splinter off of the rest of greater-syria. It was also very interesting to note that this very christian identity was one of the main reasons that Lebanon was able to veer off as independent nation instead of being merged into syria like the Alwaites, Turks, Druze and even Kurds were. Christianity was largely responsible for the unique identity of Lebanon and a sort of freedom, independence and the rich Arab-French culture that once set Lebanon apart from the rest of the Arab world because of which Lebanon was also referred to as the Paris of the Middle East